Blind Golfers Hit the Links

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(Host) Since the U.S. Blind Golf Association was organized in the early nineteen fifties, golf leagues for the blind and visually impaired have been established in nearly every state in the country. Now a Randolph Center woman is trying to organize a league in Vermont.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports on her efforts and the challenges of playing golf with a visual impairment.

(Sound of hitting a golf ball) "Nice!"

(Zind) It’s a beautiful day for golf. The trees along the fairway converge at a putting green ringed by bright sand traps. A white ball hangs in a clear blue sky. But these golfers can’t see these things. They’re visually impaired.

(Susan McNeish) "Come on, Balsa. Let’s go find my ball. Good girl."

(Zind) Susan McNeish of Randolph gets some assistance from Balsa, her seeing eye dog. But most of her help comes from friend Bill Mather who acts as her golf coach. He tells McNeish in which direction to hit the ball and how far it should go.

(Mather) "I think if you turn a little bit more toward one o’clock. A little bit. Ball’s off the tee." (Sound of hit.)
(McNeish) "Which way did I go? Right?"
(Mather) "Right."

(Zind) McNeish is trying to start a blind golfer’s league in Vermont. Today she’s organized a threesome to play at the Montague Golf Course in Randolph. None of the three women is completely blind. McNeish says she has about 4% of normal vision. For her, even nearby objects are indistinct.

(McNeish) "I usually touch the ball to find out where it is with my club. There’s like four of them because I have blurred vision and I couldn’t tell you which one is the real one."

(Zind) Dee Jones of Middlesex uses a pair of binoculars to peer down the fairway. With them, she can make out the shapes and colors of the green and the sand traps. She can’t tell how far away they are. A friend helps her.

(Friend) "You want your five iron? Your trusty five?"
(Jones) "No, I didn’t like that one."

(Zind) Jones is playing golf for the first time in fifteen years. Like the other women, she says she enjoys the challenge of the game, socializing with other people and being outside. McNeish explains to her how to use touch instead of sight to pick up on the game’s finer points: like walking the green to see how much it slopes.

(McNeish) "I can get the feel of the green better with my feet. So I mentally know better where my ball is going."
(Jones) "That’s a good idea. You know, I just thought that when I just hit from over here in the trees, if I would have walked to the green, I would have known how far it was."
(McNeish) "One thing that any of the blind golfers’ leagues always encourage also is to be careful of our timing, because there’s other golfers on the golf course so we have to keep moving."

(Zind) Shirley Terry of Quechee completes the threesome. She’s played golf all her life. When she lost most of her eyesight eight years ago, she quit the game for a year. Then she picked up her clubs again.

(Terry) "That year I got a hole in one. Then two years ago on ladies’ day I got a hole in one. Both times after I lost my eyesight. That first year, that was kind of devastating. I though my life was over. I decided I better get up and start moving."

(Zind) Terry’s son acts as her coach, but she doesn’t need much advice. She’s a seasoned player who hits her ball consistently well: straight and far. For McNeish, the game isn’t as easy.

(McNeish strikes a ball.) "Topped it."

(Zind) McNeish echoes the frustrations of every weekend golfer down through the ages. But, she realizes the challenges of a blind golfer are even more formidable.

(McNeish) "I just keep trying so hard and I wish I could just see where the ball was going and see the green so I could just give myself some direction. But I don’t, so eventually I’ll get this down pat."

(Zind) McNeish says she needs to find more golfers in order to start a league in Vermont. She says the biggest obstacle for blind and visually impaired golfers is finding transportation to the golf course. (Sound of a ball dropping into a hole.) "Alright, Dee!"

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Randolph.

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